What Does Internet Explorer 7 Mean For Apple?

by Chris Seibold Mar 17, 2005

First a bit of background: Microsoft repeatedly and vehemently maintained that there would be no new version of IE until Longhorn shipped. Most folks took this to mean that there would be no new independent version of IE at all. That is to say that if you wanted the latest version of IE you were going to have to go ahead and pony up the cash for Longhorn. It made a twisted sort of sense, after all Microsoft had been giving away IE for so long there was no way they could start charging for it directly and, by coupling it with Longhorn only, users would have that much more incentive to jettison XP the day Longhorn shipped. Think of it as the big payoff for all those years spent beating Netscape into the ground.

In a mildly shocking (think 9 volt battery on the tongue) shift Microsoft has decided to release IE 7 before and (obviously) independently of Longhorn. One is left to wonder why. Some might argue that it was an increasing amount of consumer complaints. Others might opine that IE 6 has become somewhat hopelessly outdated and lacks many features of more modern browsers. The cynical and jaded will argue that Firefox’s recent success prompted Microsoft to do something before a small problem could grow into a big problem.

Here the analytical thinker might point out that since Microsoft isn’t going to charge anything for the browser then there is really no reason to think that Firefox’s popularity is even an issue. That argument might have some merit if Microsoft did not obviously want to control the browser market. If we cast our minds back to the earliest incarnations of Explorer we are hard pressed to think of obvious reasons to release a web browser at all. Netscape controlled the market and charged thirty dollars (if memory serves) for Netscape Gold. Microsoft came along and gave a better browser away for free. Rather than go into various abstractions of why Microsoft would give something away for free when others were trying to make a buck it is sufficient to note that they did. And that illustrates the fact that, for whatever reason, Microsoft wants to rule the browser arena.

So how does any of this apply to the Mac platform? If Firefox is indeed the reason for Microsoft’s policy shift then the Mac may be in for a very bumpy ride. Currently the Mac platform appears to be going through something of a renaissance. Last quarter saw small gains in market share and this quarter, analysts think, will see larger gains. The increase has been attributed to any number of factors but the reason doesn’t really matter in the long run, if Apple picks up enough steam they might find themselves the object of Microsoft’s wrath.

Being targeted by Microsoft is a very bad thing according to conventional wisdom. One only has to look back through the years to see what happens when Microsoft decides to dominate any particular aspect of computing. That doesn’t stop people from trying, Microsoft history is littered with companies that thought they had the upper hand or at least a fighting chance and tried standing their ground in the face of Microsoft competition. The mistake these companies make is analogous to the error an armadillo makes on a Texas highway. The armadillo has a tough hide that is able to fend off most predators so when faced with a Peterbilt Semi hugging the centerline in the late afternoon the armadillo curls into a protective ball. The results are a pronounced flattening of the distinctive armadillo shape. The last thought of the armadillo is probably along the lines of “Odd, this has always worked before.” For example the Netscape executives saw Microsoft release a browser and likely thought that with their market share they would be able to withstand the coming onslaught. History should have told them that they were, forgive the pun, flat out wrong. So most right minded folks will think that if Microsoft ever turns it’s Redmond eye towards Apple then Apple is well and truly done.

However contrarians will say might does not necessarily win every battle. Astute thinkers will note that as a corporation grows in size innovation often suffers. There is no better illustration of this fact than the chemical industry. Huge companies are currently having a very difficult time discovering useful compounds. Some large corporations have essentially given up on research and instead focus on buying compounds from smaller, more flexible firms. It appears that when a corporation reaches truly behemoth like proportions the levels of management start interfering with innovation.

That is why the Firefox/IE 7 battle will be of supreme interest. If Microsoft is able to play the blue whale to the plankton that is Firefox then it might be wise to hope that Apple’s market share sticks somewhere under the threshold where Microsoft would take notice. On the other hand if IE 7 rolls out and still lacks enough features to thoroughly and completely remove Firefox from the Windows landscape then it might be a sign that Microsoft has lost it’s edge. It will be an interesting time to watch the browser share numbers.

Comments

  • The reason I recommend Firefox to friends using Windows PCs is security. Sure, it has a better, more modern feature set and runs faster than Internet Explorer, but most people arent into bells and whistles that generally just make a program more complex and harder to use. If you tell an IE user about tabbed browsing or feature enhancing plug-ins they mostly look at you with a dull-eyed huh? But if you say pop-up blocker, their eyes light up, Tell me more!

    In respect to the question of Apples market share potentially threatening Microsoft, I think the folks in Redmond are far more worried about the spread of Linux in the enterprise market, where the competition, and the big bucks, really are. There is absolutely nothing Bill Gates hates more than Open Source. Thats why Microsoft has tried to prop up SCO in its pathetic attempt to stop Linux from overtaking Unix - and, by extension, Windows.

    An example of how anxious M$ is to expand software sales on the Mac is the current steep discount for students and teachers on Office X 2004.

    And you may have noticed that WordPerfect is making a comeback as a part of the OEM software bundle on Dell computers.

    Under cover of all this chaff and clutter I think Apple has plenty of room to grow before Microsoft takes notice, or takes offense; at least they make some money in the Mac market. They make zilch from Linux.

    Microsoft is working up a new version of Internet Explorer (by the way, theres no mention yet of a Mac update) because they made a strategic blunder in dropping development for XP too soon in favor of Longhorn. In effect, they underestimated the vitality of the marketplace, both in exploiting M$ security vulnerabilities and in the development of better and more secure alternative browsers. Whether IE7 will be good enough to alter these trends is an open question.

    WhiteDog had this to say on Mar 17, 2005 Posts: 8
  • I think the author’s view of when IE actually became a viable browser is a little clouded, IE wasn’t even usuable until v4, and for all intents and purposes Netscape was free as well.

    vagueone had this to say on Mar 17, 2005 Posts: 1
  • I know I’m going to be odd-man out here, but I wish Microsoft had not discontinued IE or that they would begin to develop it again. I can’t check my work email on Safari or Firefox because it runs on MS Exchange Server. And I still occasionally hit a site that won’t work on anything but IE. But IE 5 for the Mac is going to be showing its age before too long and some sites are just going to be off limits for Mac users.

    R. Mansfield had this to say on Mar 17, 2005 Posts: 11
  • IE 5 wasnt a bad browser, for its time. And I, too, worry that without an IE update, some web sites may soon be off limits to Mac users. On the other hand, as non-Microsoft browsers become more popular, web designers will have to return to universal standards, not M$ only ones, if they want to retain visitor traffic on their sites. If were lucky, the marketplace will take care of the problem. In the meantime, I still use IE 5 on occasion as well.

    WhiteDog had this to say on Mar 17, 2005 Posts: 8
  • Microsofts’s dominance in the browser market did not come from building a better browser or giving it away.  Rather the combination of packaging IE with Windows and the choice of AOL to use IE bundled with its software at a time when the net was becoming very popular resulted in MS’s control of the market.  Most consumers no longer had to choose a browser, they just had one that worked.  The results may have been very different if MS and AOL required users to select and download the browser that they would like to use.  I’ll bet most folks still don’t know that you can use any browser with an AOL dial up connection.

    Regarding Mac browser compatibility, my company’s email system (MS Exchange Server), most banking sites and most recently a realtor website (Firefox only), can all be reasonably used with Mac browsers, including Safari, Netscape and Firefox.  There are still some sites that may cause problems; however, in my experience, Mac web compatibility is improving.  It’s been a long time since I had to crank up IE 5 for the Mac.

    smcmh had this to say on Mar 18, 2005 Posts: 1
  • Chris, I know it was good for the story, but one thing I can pick you up on, is that the Netscape guys were well and truly aware of the might of Microsoft - and were in fact plain terrified of it - even when Netscape totally controlled the browser market.

    I read an report from a journalist recently who interviewed Marc Anderssen back when Netscape was at its peak, The jjournalist expected Anderssen to rave about Netscape, but all Anderssen was interested in talking about, was how could they stop Netscape from being blown out of the water by MS.  The journalist thought he was mad, and told him not to worry, but Anderessen said “Microsoft never give up.”

    So on the one hand Apple should be worried - they have been on the receiving end before. But MS never quite obliterated Apple or Netscape, and now they are both coming back to haunt them. Kinda reminds me of Gulf War 1 when the US didn’t quite finish the job (getting Saddam).  Next time they did. Next time MS might not leave any part of Netscape or Apple standing.


    But the Apple analogy is interesting.  There are some things MS might consider before trying to blow Apple out of the water…

    1) Monopolistic behaviour that might draw the attention of the DoJ.
    2) MS Office on the Mac
    3) The long term future of desktop computing will be thin client.


    #1’s easy. MS do want to suppress and control competitors but not quite obliterate them - as previously demonstrated. At the DoJ, the existence of Linux and OS X were among MS’s proof that they weren’t monopolizing the desktop market. MS needed them.

    #2 Unlike MSIE 5 on the Mac, MS still make money from Apple increasing their marketshare by sales of MS Office. They also know it’s dangerous to pull the pin on MS Office because that could really ignite the alternatives market.  And as they are learning from Firefox, that can cause problems.  So why not keep their finger in the Apple pie? But at the same time, keep them under control.

    #3. The long term future of even home computing is thin client. MS will be doing all they can therefore to shore up thin client’s two dependencies - applications and servers.  So does it really matter long term if Apple gains some marketshare? Especially if MS Office is still selling well on OS X.

    Even if OS X accounted for 20% marketshare, it wont matter when thin-client takes off. What will matter is what OS is driving the servers and what applications are being used.  So as long as MS can maintain Office’s huge market and mind shares, then the servers will be Windows based.

    Mind share is so important - as an IT Manager, so many of my peers have sold their mind shares to MS.  They want MS everything. 101% MS Office compatible everything. MS SQL. MS servers. MS Exchange. A pure MS environment.

    So when thin-client hits, they’re not going to say “Hey, look, OpenOffice is 95% compatible”.

    And it will be the same with the companies who set up the applications delivery systems. MS Office will be their starting point and that will dictate Windows servers

    So I don’t see MS going after Apple desktop again.


    (sorry for crapping on! this became longer than the article!)

    Chris Howard had this to say on Mar 19, 2005 Posts: 1209
  • Sorry, I love the armadillo reference.

    piecetogether had this to say on Mar 20, 2005 Posts: 13
  • That was one insightful comment Chris. I’ll be contacting you about ghostwriting oppurtunities shortly.

    Also,  I am truly glad someone liked the armadillo ref. Thanks Michael.

    chrisseibold had this to say on Mar 21, 2005 Posts: 48
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